Noam Sobel Andrew Huberman

Dr. Noam Sobel

Dr. Noam Sobel is a renowned neuroscientist and leading expert in the field of human olfaction. With over two decades of experience, he has dedicated his career to understanding the complex world of smells and their impact on human behavior, emotions, and cognition. As the head of the prestigious Sobel Lab, Dr. Sobel has published groundbreaking research in top-tier scientific journals, earning him international recognition and numerous accolades. With a focus on leveraging the power of scent, he has worked with various industries, including fragrance, healthcare, and consumer goods, to develop innovative, scent-based solutions. A sought-after speaker and thought leader, Dr. Sobel's insights have shaped the way we perceive and interact with our olfactory environment. By harnessing the untapped potential of smell, he continues to transform lives and enhance the human experience.

Books Mentioned on the Huberman Lab Podcast with Dr. Noam Sobel & Andrew Huberman

Book Title: Jaws – The Story of a Hidden Epidemic

Authors: Sandra Kahn (Author), Paul R. Ehrlich (Author)

Huberman Lab Podcast with Dr. Noam Sobel: Smells Influence on Hormones, Health, and Behavior

The Huberman Lab Podcast, hosted by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neurobiology and ophthalmology professor at Stanford School of Medicine, recently delved into the fascinating world of olfaction and its impact on human behavior and health. The guest, Dr. Noam Sobel, a neurobiology professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, shares groundbreaking insights into how our sense of smell profoundly affects our daily lives.

The Power of Human Smell

Contrary to popular belief, humans possess an incredibly acute sense of smell, rivaling that of dogs. Dr. Sobel emphasizes that humans are highly skilled at detecting and processing chemical stimuli from their environment. This ability allows us to subconsciously gather critical information about others’ stress levels, hormone balance, and overall health simply through smell.

Olfaction and Its Deep Connection with Our Brain

Dr. Sobel highlights that our sense of smell is directly connected to various brain areas, playing a crucial role in emotional and decision-making processes. This connection is evident in phenomena like smelling a certain scent and recalling a vivid memory. Interestingly, human olfaction is intricately linked to our autonomic nervous system, affecting our alertness and restfulness.

The Surprising Facts About Our Own Scent

One of the surprising findings discussed in the podcast is our subconscious behavior of smelling ourselves. This act, often unnoticed, is crucial for regulating our cognition and behavior throughout the day. It demonstrates how integral our sense of smell is to our daily functioning.

The Fascinating Experiment on Human Olfaction

Dr. Sobel recounts an experiment where individuals could track a scent trail with impressive accuracy, similar to how dogs operate. This experiment not only highlighted the remarkable capability of the human nose but also opened discussions on the potential for improving our olfactory abilities through training.

Body Odor and Social Connections

The podcast continues with a deep dive into the intriguing study of “click friends” and their body odors. Dr. Sobel discusses an experiment where ‘click friends’ (close friends) were found to have more similar body odors than random pairs. This discovery, initially validated by an electronic nose device, suggests a significant link between our social connections and our unique scents. Interestingly, the experiment extended to include strangers interacting in a non-verbal context, where it was found that individuals with similar body odors were more likely to form a connection.

Human Olfaction and Reproductive Choices

The conversation shifts to the role of smell in romantic attraction and bond formation. Dr. Sobel explains the phenomenon where, similar to mice, humans tend to choose partners with a different immune composition, as indicated by body odor. This preference for a distinct MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) in partners is thought to enhance immune system diversity in offspring. Although Sobel’s lab hasn’t directly worked on romantic selection based on odor, the impact of body odor on human attraction and mating choices is evident.

The Vomeronasal Organ and Its Controversy in Humans

A significant part of the discussion revolves around the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a key component in the olfactory system of many mammals, known for detecting pheromones. Dr. Sobel points out that while most mammals have a functional VNO, it’s widely believed that the human VNO is vestigial and non-functional. However, he expresses skepticism about this conclusion, suggesting that the jury is still out on the functionality of the human VNO.

The Bruce Effect: Olfaction Influencing Reproductive Behavior

One of the most fascinating topics covered is the Bruce Effect, where a pregnant mouse exposed to the scent of a male other than the father of her offspring will often miscarry. This effect highlights the powerful influence of scent on mammalian reproductive behavior. Sobel speculates on the potential for a similar mechanism in humans, given the high rate of unexplained miscarriages.

Hexadecanal: Influencing Aggression Differently in Men and Women

The podcast delves into an intriguing study involving a chemical compound called hexadecanal. This compound, when introduced to humans, was found to reduce aggression in men but increase it in women. This difference potentially relates to evolutionary roles, where increased aggression in mothers could be protective towards their offspring.

The Impact of Emotional Tears on Testosterone Levels

A captivating segment of the podcast discusses a study on the effect of women’s emotional tears on men. It was discovered that exposure to these tears led to a significant reduction in men’s testosterone levels, despite the tears being odorless. This finding points to the complex and subtle ways in which human olfactory systems interact with our hormonal responses.

The Complexity of Human Olfactory Perception

In the final part of the podcast, Dr. Noam Sobel delves deeper into the intricacies of human olfaction. He emphasizes the complexity of olfactory perception and its connection to behavior and physiology. For instance, the discovery that hexadecanal, a chemical compound, affects aggression differently in men and women, highlights the nuanced relationship between scent and human behavior.

Tears and Hormonal Response

A particularly intriguing discussion revolves around a study on the impact of women’s emotional tears on men’s testosterone levels. This study revealed that exposure to these tears, even though they are odorless, led to a significant reduction in testosterone levels in men, showcasing the subtle yet powerful influence of human olfactory systems on our hormonal responses.

Menstrual Cycle Synchronization and Olfaction

The podcast also touches on the controversial topic of menstrual cycle synchronization among women who spend significant time together. Despite conflicting scientific opinions, Dr. Sobel discusses the role of olfaction in this phenomenon, suggesting that bodily scents might play a role in the synchronization of menstrual cycles.

The Potential of Digitizing Smell

Looking towards the future, Dr. Sobel shares insights into the exciting field of digitizing smell. The ability to digitally recreate and transmit scents over distances could revolutionize various industries, including food and beverage, entertainment, and even healthcare. This innovation promises a new frontier in human-machine interaction, where olfactory experiences can be shared digitally.


Dr. Noam Sobel’s insights on the Huberman Lab Podcast illuminate the profound complexities and potentials of human olfaction. From influencing our social interactions and hormonal responses to the future of digitizing smells, this podcast episode offers a comprehensive view of the current state and exciting future of olfactory research.